How to travel eco-friendly in Latin America, picture from the colourful street of San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico.

Travel eco-friendly in Latin America – 11 ways for backpackers and cyclists

Hola, hola! As you may have figured, we care a lot about our planet. We’re vegans, travel on bicycles, while we lived in London we tried to live by (almost) zero waste ideology. Travelling through Latin America is really hard on our beliefs, seeing all the trash everywhere, plastics and everything being burned, washing being done in the rivers…



It’s hard to keep our life as eco as possible while we’re cycling through places where environmental consciousness is non-existent or in nappies. So we’re bringing you this list of ideas, how to travel eco-friendly in Latin America as much as possible. It all comes from our personal experience travelling through Mexico and Guatemala so far, therefore if you have other valuable tips, share them with us so we can include them in the list.

We also try to stay reasonable about the requirements. When we lived in London, of course we had more options how to be eco-friendly and zero waste than here when we depend on local customs and we can only as much as we can do. But as you’ll see, the small changes make big difference.


1. How to get water while you travel eco-friendly

In Mexico, purificadoras de agua (“mini water treatment plant” where they clean the water and make it safe for drinking) are quite common and if not staffed, then there’s at least an automated system, where you can get water by the litre or garafon (20l)/half garafon. It’s very cheap and super friendly. As cyclists we haven’t even been charged a lot of times. In Guatemala we’ve have seen so far ONE purificadora de agua and when we ask people about it, they look at us like crazy.  In small shops you can usually get only small plastic bags of water (about 350mls of water) or small bottles. If you’re lucky they’ve got 3.3 litre bottle. But it’s still unnecessary plastic. So we came up with this system.

  • if you need only to refill your bottle/bottles, ask at the shop or tortilleria where they’re using purified water to make tortillas if they can refill your bottles for small charge – we were never refused if they had it
  • if you need more water and you’re carrying water storage system, you can buy a garafon, refill how much you need and give the rest to the shop owner for their personal use
  • if the place doesn’t have access to purified water, they have usually some source of water they’re using (like a tap for the village or a well). Depending on your preference and common sense ;), you can get this water from them and treat it via your filter, SteriPen or use disinfection drops.


2. Carry your own cutlery

Drop those fiddly plastic spoons or forks that all local comedores (little restaurants/stalls) will give you and use on for everything. We’re sure you’ve heard about Spork. Instead of a plastic one, that will most likely break at some point (we went through quite a few of them), get one made from titanium. It’s indestructible!


3. Carry your own container for take away food

If it is a plastic box with lid or just a pan or pot from your camping set, offer this to a local at the stall to serve your food there instead of a styrofoam plate, they’re usually using.  If you have a container with a lid, you can even keep the rest for later.


4. Have a bag or tea towel for tortillas

Ok, tea towel might be a little sci-fi but just keep the first plastic bag you get with your tortillas and clean it from time to time. Tortillas is staple food in Mexico and Central America, so one bag should serve you for many many tortillas.


5. Have your own straw

If you’re very cool, you have your own metal one. If you’re just a regular traveller/cyclist, it’s perfectly reasonable to keep that first plastic one you get with your coco frio and refuse the rest.


6. If you have your own quick drying towel, don’t use the hotel one for just one night

We think it’s completely unnecessary. If you’re staying somewhere longer and your towel is in laundry, it’s ok to use the hotel one of course. Just make sure, when you haven’t used the towel, to make it clear either by mentioning so or leaving it untouched where you found it.


7. Don’t open every single soap and shampoo you get in the hotel


If you need soap take the first one and use it until it lasts and carry your own shampoo in bigger bottle. Or if you want to have one product, without the packaging, we can recommend shampoo bars by LUSH.


8. Choose where you eat and drink


If you can choose places where they think alike. Where they support local small producers, don’t use single use plates and cutlery, don’t use straws. You’d be surprised that we’re not talking only about fancy “gringo” places in big tourist traps but also that old lady at the mercado who sells coffee in ceramic cups instead of plastic ones. Have your eyes open and choose wisely.


9. Buy fruit and veggies at the market or from locals by the road

You can get it piece by piece, without packaging and you support locals. If you see somebody selling something by the road, usually just one or two types of fruit, it comes from their garden. Be careful in the supermarkets. A lot of fruit, even the the types that are widely available in tropics, are imported. Read the labels.


10. Have your own cup/mug/bottle for coffee and smoothies

There’s a lot of places here that make fresh smoothies or milkshakes and they usually put them in a big styrofoam cup. Have your own cup or bottle ready instead. For coffee you can use KeepCup kind of thing or even a camping mug like we’ve got. It doesn’t have a lid so you can’t really walk away with your coffee but you can have a chat with a vendor instead and practice your Spanish.



11. And the last one, you’ve been waiting for: Say no to plastic bags in shops!

The speciality in these countries are very small poor quality plastic bags which are able to hold two items at the time without tearing. You don’t need it and the environment neither.  Even if they already put the stuff in the plastic bag, calmly take it out and hand over your fabric bag to the packing person (they usually have them in bigger shops). Leave a small tip to show your appreciation and you can drop a word about oceans, so they understand why you’re doing it.


How do you like our suggestions to travel eco-friendly? Are they easy to follow or you think we’re crazy environmentalists? Leave us a comment with your experience!


Follow Luba Lapsanska:

Older woman, 33 years old, experienced. She stopped being a doctor and started being a traveller. She likes animals more than people because they don't lie. She also likes looking at the the world through the viewfinder of her camera.

3 Responses

  1. Melody

    I love this Luba!…Especially #8…that is so cool that old lady uses ceramic mugs…how wonderful!…This is a great blog for those unfamiliar with zero waste consumption…You are an inspiration to all of the other peeps on the road!..

  2. Daniel Ellsworth

    All excellent and common sense suggestions. I might note that here most locals already take their own bag and/or towel to get tortillas. I think it’s a note of pride to have the prettiest one. It’s considered kinda low class to accept the paper towel wrapped ones. Here in our coffee stop (when it’s open) we charge 2 pesos less to drink from our ceramic cups and another 2 pesos less if you bring your own cup. I’ve not noticed anyone following our example but I bet if you asked for a 1 or 2 pesos discount you’d get one for your own cup or plates. Not that you need it but it’d highlight the idea and is a way to promote without being patronizing.

    • Luba

      Hi Daniel, I’ve noticed that on your website and we both really appreciate it! It’s definitely really good and creative idea how to promote less waste and you even save some money, right? 😉

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